The Junior Cancer Championship
An original YA novel about young people with cancer
So it can be done: writing an original and moving YA novel about young people with cancer after John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Edward van de Vendel and Roy Looman have done so, in a way that feels completely authentic and personal. They have chronicled Roy’s story in The Junior Cancer Championship – a rather provocative title that shows exactly what it’s all about.
You have to fight. That’s the attitude of narrator Max, Roy Looman’s stand-in, who tells the story, presenting himself as an invincible 15-year-old whose main interests are friends and drinking and girls and parties. His zest for life dominates the whole book; he’s optimistic and energetic, even though it’s often an uphill struggle. But tears require energy, and he needs his energy to fight.
Van de Vendel and Looman describe this struggle incisively and from different angles: how chemotherapy turns Max’s pee pink, how the smell of noodles in the hospital makes him violently sick, and also how his illness affects his relationship with his friends and family. They depict the impact of cancer on day-to-day life, in an account that’s written simply, with great pace and the occasional playful metaphor, and without ever becoming sentimental or self-pitying.
The story is sometimes painful; in spite of all that energy and dynamism, the authors never downplay the disease. Max is lucky: the chemo works, and he wins the cancer championship. But he isn’t prepared for what comes next: panic attacks that continue to plague him for a long time. With that optimistic, almost childishly naïve fighting spirit, Max ignored his fear throughout his illness, but now he comes to realize that life could slip through his fingers at any moment. And so this novel also presents a different side to the cancer story: the medical “fight” is only half of the story and it’s more a question of luck than of victory. The real fight comes afterwards: the fear-of-death championship, a battle that forces the young protagonist to grow up.